Sunday, 25 July 2010

Blame it on my brain

Jim Fallon, a neuroscientist from the University of California-Irvine, is fascinated with the brains of psychopaths and murderers - is it because he could have been one? This week I've watched a TED talk given by Dr Fallon and read a couple of articles about his work and discoveries. He'd been studying the minds of murderers for a while when he discovered he had a whole family tree full of them, including the infamous Lizzie Borden. Even worse, his brain scan showed patterns similar to a murderer's and he had the 'killer' gene MAO-A gene (monoamine oxidase A).

So what's the difference between Fallon and a natural-born killer? Most likely, it's that a killer is not born but made. In particular, witnessing some sort of violence or trauma in childhood is likely to spark the critical change from average person to sociopath. As Fallon explain in his TED talk, there are three ingredients involved in the shaping of a murderous personality: environment, experience and genes. This is, in (extremely) simple terms, the basis of neuroconstructivism: that we are not simply products of nature and nurture but that personal experience combines with the other two factors to shape who we become. Or that's how I understand it at the moment, anyway. In the next few months I will attempt to wade my way through the 2 volumes of Mareschal et al's Neuroconstructivism, which may well turn my brain to melted plastic.

But it's something I need to get my head around because neuroconstructivism is basically going to form the theoretical framework for my phd research. Hopefully neuroscientists like Jim Fallon will help me work through some of the concepts that my non-scientific brain is bound to struggle with. But essentially what I want to investigate is what makes us the way we are, what makes us who we are? Why do some people go down one path while others with seemingly the same opportunities and backgrounds go a completely different way? It's what our human stories are all about. And hopefully making the time over the next few years to get my head around the intricacies of what neuroscience can teach us will translate into a unique and compelling creative piece.

Anyway, here's hoping.

Looking into the Mind of a Murderer
A Neuroscientist Uncovers a Dark Secret